VIERA, Fla. -- Rafael Montero's unorthodox journey to the Mets began at age 17, when he decided to take baseball more seriously by moving to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, several hours from his hometown. As a result, though top Dominican free agents usually choose a big league suitor as soon as they turn 16, the Mets were able to nab Montero at age 20.
"In three years, I worked hard and then I signed with [the Mets]," Montero said through an interpreter.
He spent two more years breezing through New York's farm system, opening eyes with a 2.36 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 19 walks over two levels of Class A ball last summer. That earned Montero a trip to big league camp, where he made his debut Thursday with two innings of one-run ball against the Nationals.
Though Zack Wheeler is the most highly touted young pitcher around Mets camp this spring, team executives have been gushing about Montero. The right-hander considers his four-seam fastball his best pitch, with the ability to spot it to both sides of the plate. His slider also looked sharp on Thursday, generating swings and misses from right-handed hitters Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon.
"He has a game plan out there and he's got phenomenal stuff," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "He's got three great pitches."
Though he should start this season at Double-A Binghamton, Montero does not seem intimidated in a big league clubhouse. In his first group interview with New York reporters, the prospect used an interpreter to answer about a half-dozen questions.
He did not need any help when asked if he was nervous.
"Nawwww," Montero said, smiling.